… and Names Can Hurt Me Too

Forget the wisdom inherent in simple children’s rhymes — it appears that hurt feelings cause the same brain reaction as physical injury:

Using magnetic resonance imaging, Eisenberger and associates in Australia studied brain activity in 13 volunteers as they played a video game designed to mimic social rejection. The game involved throwing a ball back and forth. Volunteers thought they were playing with two other people.
After a period of nice three-way play, the game forced the volunteers to sit on the sidelines. The other two “players,” both controlled by the computer, began to throw the ball between themselves.
The social snub triggered nerve activity in a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex, which also processes physical pain.

This discovery has implications for social science, psychology, and education.

The physical distress from social rejection also may help explain violent outbursts among socially isolated individuals, Eisenberger said. Pain is a proven cause of violence in animals, she added.

It’s an interesting article; I found the test method a bit odd. I wonder what they told the volunteers prior to the testing. It also sheds some light on how our politics has become so polarized over the past three decades, or maybe better yet, since Vietnam. Prior to that, name-calling was limited to fringe elements in local elections (including Congressional races). While the public debate may have been heated, the tenor was serious and deferential, a legacy of which is the custom in Congress of referring to others as “my esteemed colleague”, and so on. As I’ve said before, we need to insist on intelligent and mature dialogue in order to repair our national discourse, because if this report is true, we are on a slippery slope indeed.